Hobby becomes cottage business Ripley mayor's woodworking talents pay off with full-fledged firm

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – The avocation that has given Mayor Chris Marsalis a chance to express himself creatively while destressing from the demands of his other role as an Internet technology consultant has unexpectedly bloomed into a full-fledged business.
The mayor and his wife, South Tippah School District federal programs coordinator Melinda Marsalis, work together in the business that has steadily grown since Chris Marsalis ramped up his woodcrafting several years ago.
“I’ve enjoyed woodworking for as long as I can remember,” Chris Marsalis said. “Some years ago I finally built the workshop I’ve always dreamed about and began by making a few sets of outdoor chairs for our patio and deck. Before too long my wife said, ‘We are up to our ears in chairs. You’ve got to sell some.'”
Those first sales of Adirondack-style chairs were to family members. Then a shop in Oxford ordered several pieces designed to its specifications. From there the Marsalises started going to craft shows around the area, where sales took off.
“We were excited when we sold one or two,” Melinda Marsalis said. “Now, after five years of doing this, it’s not surprising any more when we get a $2,000 order. We’re so busy we can’t go to craft shows anymore and keep up with orders.”
Though Chris Marsalis, his stepson Justin Mansell and Melinda Marsalis’ son, Wade Simpson, are the woodworkers, Melinda’s primary role is painting the finished pieces.
“I can measure and chop correct sizes, router and sand – all that I can do – and I do all the painting,” she said.
The business is called CM CedarWorks, and its website is www.cm-cedarworks.com. The Marsalises also have a brochure showing their standard selection of pieces and they rent a storefront in Madison at Simply Spaces where their products are sold.
Using local wood
“We start the process with locally grown cedar or white oak,” Chris Marsalis said. There’s a source in Grenada where he can get all the cedar he needs and where they also do the planning and cut it to width.
The busy season is March to October, and it usually takes about three to six weeks from the time an order is placed to delivery.
“Our whole family gets involved in the process and we really enjoy our part,” he said. “We hand work each piece and do our best to make sure each item is as good as we can make it.”
Although the pieces have a basic Adirondack base, their stylized design takes them to another level. The standard pieces available include a chair, a swing, a twin-bed swing, a bench, a large table, a small table, a kid chair, a rocker and a footrest.
Bright colors dominate the color palette of sample pieces, but customers may choose any color they wish, including nontraditional choices like polka dots, zebra stripes or just about any other color combination.
Though white has been the most common color choice, Melinda Marsalis said, customers can repaint the furniture at any time and in any other colors they choose if their tastes change after they’ve owned their pieces a while. They also have the option of keeping the natural wood color, treating it with an application of water sealer or marine varnish.
The Marsalises also stand behind their quality, and guarantee to make it right if a piece of wood turns out to be internally flawed or the customer experiences some other problem with their product.
“Ninety percent of the time it’s great, but you have to replace the 10 percent when it doesn’t work out,” Melinda Marsalis said.
No one expected Chris Marsalis’ longstanding love of woodworking to turn into a cottage business. But now he, Melinda Marsalis, Mansell and Simpson – who lives in Oxford – have to work around their other full-time job schedules.
“We’re hoping we can find a little storefront in Ripley to build in back and show in front,” Melinda Marsalis said.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com